Thursday, 30 July 2015

A walk amongst the Black & Whites. Mount Pleasant and onwards......

Mount Pleasant, Malcolm Rd, Mount Rosie to Swiss Cottage

Hidden behind the impressive Singapore Polo club and surrounded by Bukit Brown Cemetery on one side and the PIE (Pan Island Expressway) I hadn't explored this area home to the Black and Whites of Mount Pleasant until a couple of months ago, when I decided to bring a friend along for a morning walk. A walk that saw us visit more of Singapore's Black and Whites and discover a Chinese cemetery along the way!

Mount Pleasant

The houses in this estate are large, substantial homes built to house the top ranking political chief inspectors and high court judges who needed large homes to reflect their stature in the community. They were built on crown land in the housing boom after the first World War, although one grand house in Thomas Walk was built in 1900 to house a police inspector general. Built north of Bukit Timah Rd these new estates were for government officials such as police, doctors, teachers and judges, built mostly between 1920-30. 

Mount Pleasants roads are surrounded my mature trees on yes, you've guessed it a mount, a hill. As mentioned many were police officials, it made sense to house them here as it was close by the Police Academy at the bottom of the hill by the grand Polo Club. 

This is reminiscent of the long houses of Devon and the south of England I think 

During the Japanese Occupation many homes were left empty with several fires taking place, others were used to home the 'comfort women' and others were used by the feared Kempeitai. Many deaths and tortures are reported to have taken place within these walls. I have heard and was also warned by a local friend not to go after dark as the ghosts of these victims still frequent the area. It's a good job I was visiting throughout the day! Even many taxi drivers will not go there during the night, although it is also stated that it's not only the Kempeitai victims that haunt the area but that of an evil female spirit that that lives in the nearby cemetery 

Mount Pleasant Cemetery

As I walked through Mount Pleasant estate 2 small lanes were spied off to the left, with glimpses of Chinese graves, of course it needing investigating! One with a barrier stopping cars accessing with a empty disused guard hut. Why the cemetery needs to be guarded I don't know!

This cemetery was once part of the larger Bukit Brown cemetery and was opened in 1922 before it was separated by the PIE cutting it off. 

Wandering along the tracks some graves were tended but many were overgrown and swamped by the vegetation. It felt very forgotten but later we came upon a 'home' of a undertaker and monumental mason 

The undertaker and stone masons abode. Certainly no worries about noisy neighbors unless you believe the ghost stories

Legend has it that the area was once a Javanese kampong where the inhabitants practised black magic long before it became a cemetery. Another reason why taxi drivers and locals will not come to Mount Pleasant after dark is that the area is reported to be home to 'pontianaks' evil banshee, vampire-like, female spirits. I have to say if I had a choice of bumping into a ghost of a departed soul or that of a Pontianak, I would chose the first! 

Not only Chinese religion apparent in this cemetery

We retraced our steps heading out of this quiet secluded cemetery, back onto the road. From here we crossed the PIE, an experience in itself as the traffic was constant, climbing up through Malcolm Park into Malcolm Road

Malcolm Road

Here is another estate built for the high ranking civil servants of the colonial government, only now separated from Mount Pleasant by the Expressway. Again most of these grand homes were built around 1925 on this small hill. In fact the contours of the land were used to almost build the homes into. Many are built on pillars. The front of the 1st storey being raised, but the back being at ground level. These homes are still in the colonial style but now with touches of the more modern, with simpler, cleaner lines in keeping with the 1920s era. 

A more Art Deco house than many of the others

Came across a few of these old electrical boxes

These government homes are classified as Class III and were designed by the government architect H A Stallwood, who held this position from 1922-8. 

Exiting and leaving behind these majestic houses we walked through into Mount Rosie

Mount Rosie

Mount Rosie sounds idyllic, the homes here are a collection of various designs from different eras. Mount Rosie is named after a large bungalow that was built on top of the hill in the 1880s for Theodore Heinrich Sohst, a German trader. This country estate of his was named after his wife Rosie de Souza. The bungalow was after his death leased to various people, and to the War Office in the 1920s and renamed Flagstaff House. 

The home which to me has to be the 'stand out' Black and White, is an enormous colonial bungalow. It was built the same time as those in Malcolm Road in the 1920s. Traditional in design but with modern Art Deco features. The upper levels are Tudoresque sitting on pillared columns below. The architect was the same as those of Malcolm Road, H A Stallwood. Stallwood also designed Fort Canning in 1918. This home in Mount Rosie is in the typical long narrow style and is set in a secluded hollow, surrounded by mature trees. Sadly however it looked empty on my visit, perhaps it is just too large, or more likely too expensive to rent. 

No 24. This gas to be favourite, although sadly empty now

From here it's just s short stroll through the interestingly named Goldhill to...

Look closely at this walk, it appears there were once arches or doorways in through it. I wonder what they were for or where they went?

Swiss Cottage Estate

So little could I find about this tiny cluster of colonial homes sitting just a stones through away from Dunearn Rd, if anyone has any information about them I would love to here from you! I do however know they were built for colonels and high ranking officers of the British Army, with many have servants quarters at the rear and that is all I could find out!

This was the final stop on the days exploring. Time to catch a bus home and relax :)

Monday, 27 July 2015

Bukit Browns secret temple

Sin Heng San Teng Temple or Lao Sua Temple.

I had heard rumblings about this temple for awhile, hidden in the jungle of the Bukit Brown Cemetery and from reading and wandering I had deduced where I thought it was. Indeed walking part way to it before returning to 20 expat ladies I had left standing on the roadside as I took a peak!

After speaking to a couple of the 'Brownies' I knew my suspicions were correct, I just had to find the time to get back there. Hence it remained on my 'bucket list' for months. However recently the 'Brownies' themselves led a weekend tour to the temple, which my good friend attended. This gave me the kick to visit the following week.

The cemetery surrounding the temple, before being incorporated into the great Bukit Brown cemetery, was once owned by the Hokkien Huay Kuan and known as the Sin Heng San Teng cemetery, hence the temple being called Sin Heng San Temple. According to paper clippings on the wall of the temple, the incense burner dates back to 1893 and the original temple was located in fact in Bukit Merah from 1828 until it was destroyed by fire in 1992. By 2012 Lao Sau meaning Old Hill had been  completely taken over by the vegetation, the roof had collapsed and nature was in control. Sitting close by an old Kampong, adjacent to the PIE (Pan Island Expressway) the temple had been neglected and forgotten for many years. However thanks to a few diligent local residents of the old kampong (which was still in existence until the early 1980s) it has been reclaimed and renovated over the last few years to what we see today, sitting on a small hill in what is now a small clearing surrounded by the graves of Bukit Brown.

Look carefully as you walk through as the undergrowth is fighting the efforts of the few and you will spot the remains of the old kampong. Rusting cars eaten away by the weather and humidity of Singapore, to steps leading up to the remaining foundations and lower walls, ghosts of the kampong buildings. The men have rebuilt and dug out and dammed the old stream. You can now see small fish swimming in the pond, with damsel and dragon flies (and of course the ever present mosquitoes) hovering over its surface. 

Sunlight shoots shafts of light through the thick vegetation, giving a beautiful, peaceful, romantic hue to the area, even though you are surrounded by the decay of the old kampong and watched by the spirits of those buried close by.

The decaying remains of cars totally eaten away and with trees growing through them are reminiscent of the temples of Cambodia. These cars are the remains of a car mechanic of the old kampong. I wonder if when the kampong residents were relocated, these mechanics were the ones that set up business outside the old grand main gates of the cemetery (these gates have sadly now be removed in the past couple of weeks)

The temple deity is Tua Pek Kong (Grand Uncle, the god of fortune) Much of the temple has been rebuilt using many of its original parts. Plaques dating back to the 1950s can been found against the outside walls, which apparently tell of the temple being rebuilt in 1950 and 1969.  I love the feint remains of the dragon painting still showing on the back wall of the temple with Tua Pek Kong sitting just in front. You can spot in the "front garden" of the temple, the old remains of the roof decorations. Whisps of smoke rise from the burning of both incense and of rubbish! Indeed one of the cleared graves in front of the temple is clearly used as a rubbish burning pit. I am assuming the previous tenant has previously been exhumed! To the left of the temple (next to a true drop toilet) is the original joss paper burner, where you will spy smoke coming from the lions mouth at its top.

The whole area, of course as it sits within the cemetery, is surrounded by the graves of Chinese past. It is good to see many have been reclaimed from the wilderness, although as mentioned its a never ending job to keep everywhere cleared. Indeed many of the small pathways were becoming difficult to spot when we returned just a few days after the 'Brownies' tour. A couple of graves with a note is one that is flanked not by The Golden Boy and Jade Girl, or the Chinese Foo dogs and Lions of the Chinese guardian dogs that are so often seen, but this particular grave is guarded by 2 elephants. A I mentioned in my Japanese cemetery post  to have such elephants in an Asian cemetery is very unusual. 

Close by this grave sits an extremely large and grand grave, clearly of someone of importance as sitting in front of the grave is a large paved area with table and chairs for the incumbents to relax upon in their after life.

Although there is no escaping the persistent hum of the nearby traffic speeding along the closely expressway there is a serene peacefulness about this tiny idyll. Long may it remain and be loved and used. Well done to those whose efforts were involved in rebuilding Lao Sua Temple.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Street Art of George Town, Penang (1) - Murals

Ok so George town and Penang may be a UNESCO world heritage town with its famous history of the Peranakans but one of the many many reasons I was keen to visit was also for its famous street art. In this photo blog post I will cover the murals (graffiti even) that cover the crumbling walls on these heritage buildings. 

In 2012 Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic (see link to some of his artwork here in Singapore  was commissioned by the Penang Municipal Council to produce 9 murals under the title of 'Mirrors George Town'. Since 2012 a few have disappeared under the decay and tropical weather of this town but equally others have been added by various artists. You can now follow the 'Street Art Trail' and spot 18. Within this post I will also show other paintings decorating shops, walls, street furniture, all adding to unusual artistic view of this slightly crumbling, even derelict in places, interesting town. 

From the original 9 murals commissioned The Old man - Armenian St and Children in a boat, Chew Jetty have now vanished. Those of his original 8 that remain are....

Trishaw Man - Penang Rd
Kungfu Girl - Muntri St 

Old Motorcycle - Ah Quee St
Little Boy with pet dinosaur - Ah Quee St
Kids on Bicycle - Armenian St
Boy on Chair - Canon St.

Included in the new street Art Trail that takes you on an exploration of the old town are. 

The Indian Boatman
Bruce Lee
No Animal Discrimination please
Cultural Girls
Lion Dance
Penang: Past, Present, Future
Penang: Past, Present, Future
Penang: Past, Present, Future
Penang: Past, Present, Future
Penang: Past, Present, Future
Child Mural at Pranglin Canal
and I had to include this mouse hiding around the corner from Skippy!
Love me like Your Fortune Cat. Can you spot the little mouse?
Please Care & Bathe Me
Brother & Sister on a Swing
Children Playing Basketball
Cats & Humans Happily Living Together 

On top of the 'official' art trail can be found the following, by no means all that this place has to offer. 

Until August 31 you can view the "Ayam What"Ayam" (Chicken what chicken) exhibition from Ernest Zacharevic at the Eatern & Oriental Hotel

George Town also has a sculpture Trail. View my post on these here